Whitecaps FC defender Carlyle Mitchell eager to retain center back spot despite return of regulars

Trinidad and Tobago international coming into his own

Carlyle Mitchell and Brad Rusin vs. San Jose

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USA Today Sports Images

VANCOUVER, BC – For Vancouver Whitecaps FC this season, center back has been a revolving door due to a slew of injuries.

But it seems like the last man standing may keep his place despite the return to contention of several big names for this Saturday's match against Montreal Impact.

Kickoff for Saturday's match between Montreal Impact and Whitecaps FC is set for 11 a.m. PT and is live on TSN and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to Saturday’s match live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 9 a.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match.

Although he too suffered an ankle injury on loan with FC Edmonton back in May, it seems Carlyle Mitchell has been the only one of Vancouver's five central defenders fully fit in recent weeks. He's also arguably been the team's best player over their last two outings.

The Trinidad and Tobago international hasn't played a lot, figuring in just 10 contests, but has become more of a regular of late, starting five of the side's last seven matches.

Mitchell is athletic, dominant in the air and has elite speed, which neutralizes many attacks. In fact, pre-season speed testing indicated he was tied alongside Darren Mattocks for second fastest on the squad behind only rookie Erik Hurtado.

But his progress this season from last year, when he was very much a fringe player, has impressed his coach.

“We always believed he was a very good player, an excellent athlete – one of the best athletes that we've got,” Martin Rennie told reporters this week after a training session at the University of British Columbia. “Our concern was his concentration and his passing, but his concentration has improved dramatically. His passing has improved a lot. I think he was 100 percent [last weekend].

“When he's doing those things, along with the attributes he's got – his ability to win the ball in the air, his recovery pace – then he's someone who can definitely be a starter for us.”

Mitchell's chances have come about due to necessity, but he hopes to keep his place on merit despite the fact that Andy O'Brien and Johnny Leveron are both on the trip to Montreal after overcoming back and calf injuries, respectively.

“It's good progress,” Mitchell said. “I've been working hard in training, so the coach has decided to put me in [over the last few games] and I've taken that opportunity with both hands.”

When Brad Rusin was forced to withdraw last match and Jay DeMerit returned from his Achilles rupture to partner with Mitchell, it marked Vancouver's ninth center back combination of the season.

Now Mitchell is just hoping he can keep possession of the shirt.

“The team is very competitive right now,” he said. “When you're in, you work hard. And when you're out, you work harder to get in the team.”

Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.